PT on the Net Research

Mechanics of a Push Up


Question:

I am wondering if you could tell me in what planes and axis of motion are push ups? And what are the synergistic muscles and their actions?

Answer:

Anatomically, the fixed prone push up is horizontal ab/adduction and functions around a transverse axis. Your question regarding synergistic muscles is well put. When performing movement tasks such as push ups, the body ALWAYS works in synergistic relationships as opposed to agonist/antagonist relationships (for a very in depth look, please refer to "Muscles Alive" by Basmajian or any of the work by Andrews, Zajac and Gordon). The fixed prone push up involves dynamic actions of mobile stabilization and force generation from some of the following muscles, all in synergy. The following is by no means a complete list, but touches on the major myofascial structures:

To successfully perform a fixed prone push up, all of these muscles (and more) must operate synergistically and be timed properly by the nervous system. To successfully challenge the neuro-muscular system, progressions into moving push ups (i.e., ones that involve a push up and a crawl pattern – see the PTontheNET.com Exercise Library) may be given to more advanced clients/athletes. This MUST be a progression. Proper dynamic stabilization and strength must clearly be observed before progression occurs. This progression challenges both the nervous system and myofascial structures in all three planes, ultimately creating higher levels of skilled movement.

References:

  1. Basmajian, J. "Muscles Alive." 1978
  2. Andrews, JG. "A general method for determining the functional role of a muscle." 1985, J Biomech Eng 107: 348-353
  3. Zajac, F. and Gordon, M. "Determining Muscle’s Force and Action in Multi-Articular Movement." 1989, Exerc Sport Sci Revs 17: 187-230